Prioritising Creativity

My mind looks like a cluttered desk, with stacks of papers and pens strewn about, covering everything from the computer to my to-do lists spanning several unfinished months. It’s full of distractions, doodads, books, ideas jotted quickly on napkins and post-it notes, lists of shows and movies I want to watch, pictures of my fiancé and sisters, and goals and dreams that my best friend and I both wish to accomplish.

And just like my mind, my schedule is messy too. A lot of crazy things have been happening in my life the last several months. But even before then, I lost my creative focus and will to make my writing dreams a top-of-the-list item.

When people ask me how I am lately, I’m never entirely sure how to respond. I am doing well, really, but I’m always on a mental and emotional overload. Not in an anxiety sense (at least not too frequently), but in just the amount of different things I’m thinking and feeling.

A couple months ago, I found out that by next March the business I work for will be entirely shut down. A week after that, many changes took place in the staffing of our particular store, which resulted in four of us getting promotions (including my fourth this year). It’s crazy to think I went from being told I wouldn’t have a job by the end of January because of my seasonal position coming to an end to being promoted to an on-call position. Then I was promoted to a part-time scheduled position, then a team lead position, and most recently the senior team lead position. All of this insanity has led to me working anywhere from 18 to 40 hours a week at a retail job I was only working four to eight hours a week just a few short months ago.

Right before all this started, I tried to make a new schedule for myself so that I could focus on writing again. But then I got the news, and I was too overwhelmed to think or sleep half the time, or I was too exhausted to stay awake the rest. So here I am, finally wrapping my mind around everything that’s been happening at work and realising just how much I miss creativity in my life.

I have been feeling inspired, whether it’s by the flowers my fiancé brings me, reading my best friend’s novel, the photos I see posted by many brilliant photographer friends, or stepping outside and seeing gold and red leaves falling off the limbs of nearby trees. But I’ve done nothing with that inspiration. And I’ve certainly not made my creativity a priority.

So a few weeks ago, it hit me while in a meeting with a couple managers, just how bad I’ve gotten at time management, both in my personal/creative life and my work life. We started coming up with some action plans for prioritising and scheduling my time. I felt so encouraged and motivated by the meeting that when I got home I started researching time management apps and tools so that I can better take care of everything that I need and want to do.

Creativity is definitely being added back on as a priority. Most specifically writing. Whether that comes as nonfiction, novel, short story, or poems writing will be found out later. But for now, it is back on the list.

My goal for myself currently is to make sure that each day I am setting aside just a few minutes to write. I know that there will be days where that’s difficult, but even on those days, I will do my best to write, even if it’s just a few sentences. I have no idea where my writing will lead during this time, but the entire purpose of it all is to just get me writing again. Hopefully soon, I’ll make it part of a more specific routine because making sure I have a set time that I spend writing everyday will be a huge help and motivation.

One of the things this will lead to is more regular blog posts. So keep an eye out.

Until then, here is my promise to myself:

I will persue my dream of writing, and it will not be a waste of time, but rather an investment in one of my top priorities—taking care of and becoming my best self.

❤❤❤

What are some tools you use for time management and prioritising?

What are some priorities you need to regain focus on?

When do you feel most creative and/or motivated?

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Book Review: Article Three

Synopsis: the System controls everything, minus one group of rebels, some of whom have special abilities. When one of the rebels is taken, her brother, Levi, goes to the group’s leaders and then embarks on a journey with Ava and Leymah to rescue her. As they go, they realise there are fewer people whom they can trust than they originally thought. Who will they trust? Will they succeed? Read it and find out.

This opener to the System trilogy by Anna Jakobsson Lund, definitely held my attention, and I enjoyed learning more and more about the characters and the setting as the story went on. Although I wasn’t really sucked into the book until the last 75 pages or so, I enjoyed the ending a large amount and definitely want to continue reading the series. I’m just so curious as to how everything plays out.

In a story filled with fear of betrayal, Lund explores the interactions of friends, strangers, and supposed allies when trust is put to the test. Levi, Ava, and Leymah’s interactions continually change through the book as they discover different things about each other and about the other people that they have interacted with along their journey to free Levi’s sister from the System. I really enjoyed that Lund captured the break of trust and the difficulty of overcoming barriers so well in this book, and I want to see how this theme is carried over into the sequels.

The interconnectedness of the three main characters’ backstories, and those of the background characters as well, intrigues me, and I have a feeling much more about Levi, Ava, and Leymah’s pasts is related than what is revealed in this first book. But I’m even more intrigued by how this will play into their futures.

If you like dystopian YA books, I definitely recommend this. I gave it 3/5 stars, as I found the beginning of it rather confusing at times and there were moments in which I wish she would have revealed more about the characters. However, I rather how those details were revealed in the end. As the book wrapped up, I certainly gained more interest in the characters and the story, and I most definitely plan on reading the other two books in the System trilogy.

Anxiety and Abuse

Not many people are aware of this, but last year I found myself in a mentally abusive relationship. Healthy Place defines mental abuse as “any act including confinement, isolation, verbal assault, humiliation, intimidation, infantilization, or any other treatment which may diminish the sense of identity, dignity, and self-worth.” This can occur in so many different ways; and my relationship wasn’t anywhere near as bad as what most have experienced, will experience, or are experiencing. I know I certainly didn’t treat the other person properly either, nor do I believe that he had realised that what he was doing was abusive, but there were things that should’ve been glaringly obvious to him to just not do. That relationship taught me so much about abuse, myself, relationships, and others.

Perhaps the most important things I learned were how anxiety disorders can make it difficult to see the signs of abuse and how they can be used by abusers. I’ve been battling in my mind as to whether I wanted to write this post for nearly a year, and now I finally feel ready.

How anxiety can blind you to abuse:

  • Most people with anxiety are already aware that they tend to imagine the worst meanings and intentions behind people’s words and actions.

This can make incredibly difficult to sort through the imagined red flags and real red flags. I was fully aware of some things that made me uncomfortable during that relationship. Sometimes though, I thought back on some things and realised that what was said or done was different than the negative thing I had heard in the first place. But there were also times I couldn’t tell if what was said or done was negative or not.

  • Anxiety can tell you that you’re overreacting.

This was a huge issue for me. Not everyone’s red flags are the same, and I thought that because something wasn’t an issue to a friend of mine, it shouldn’t be an issue to me. Obviously, that conclusion was the exact opposite from the truth.

One of the things that I thought I was overreacting about was that this person had said that he would support me in my creative endeavours and he wanted to read my work. He said this time and time again. So when he was over for the evening one day, I asked him to read a scene that I had written earlier that day and was incredible proud of but very nervous about. Without pause, he looked at me and said, “I don’t want to.” Not “In a little bit,” “Maybe later,” or any sort of explanation. And it was pretty clear to me that he meant what he said. He just didn’t want to read my work.

This tore me apart. But I convinced myself (against the advice of others) that I was making a big deal out of it, and that he didn’t mean it how it sounded. But in that moment and reflecting on those things after the relationship ended, I knew he did.

There were many other things that happened that I told myself weren’t big deals, that really are, but I’ll actually mention one of those things in the section about abusers.

  • The irrational fear of never finding anyone else who could ever be interested in you can make you feel trapped in the relationship.

He never said anything like, “Without me, you’ll be alone forever,” or anything with a connotation anywhere close to that. But I told myself that that would be the case. I was still recovering from a really bad mental breakdown that had occurred the previous fall and was still recovering from my first failed relationship that had dwindled away just a couple months prior. These two circumstances combined to make me feel as though I was a pretty worthless human being, and even after I started naming those red flags as what they were, I convinced myself that I would never find anyone else. Thankfully not too much longer, the relationship “ended” and I began the journey of regaining hope and recovery.

How abusers can use your anxiety against you:

  • Even without saying it, abusers can make you feel as though they are the only person that will ever “love” you.

This goes hand-in-hand with the last point I made. This guy never outright said this. But as time went on, I realised that I didn’t feel desirable unless he was there because he would talk about how much he liked to hold me and how pretty I was, and I noticed wasn’t really receiving any compliments on my appearance from anyone else at the time. I also realised that I would sometimes tell him stories from my past or from work in which a guy had flirted with me (or even asked me out), and he would usually suggest that the guy was intending everything to be platonic. Without actually saying it, he had insinuated that I wasn’t desirable to others.

  • They can gain your trust and then target your insecurities and triggers.

This was a really big thing for me, and is now something I am very aware of. This guy had charmed me and gained my trust very quickly, and early on, I realised that he liked to push limits on things. He even told me that he liked trying to “push people’s buttons.” We had a conversation about it, and I essentially said that there were certain things I did not want him trying to push limits on, and he agreed to that. However, we ended up having multiple conversations about those exact things and his pushing my limits.
Some of these things were my insecurities about my appearance and personality, but the thing that made me really start questioning the health of our relationship actually happened on our last date.

That day, we had actually had a conversation about my PTSD from car accidents and how, sometimes when he was driving, I felt like my PTSD was being triggered because of his driving. He changed how he was driving for most of that evening. However, after turning onto a street on the way to my apartment, he decided that he would continue speeding up and swerving slightly until I reacted. I thought that he was just being weird and speeding up quickly and that he would stop once he reached the speed limit. But he kept going and going.

I was on the verge of a panic attack when I finally half-yelled “What are you doing??”

His only response: “Seeing how long it would take you to say something.”

Even after that, a large part of me wanted to stay with him, and I tried to make it work. But that brings me to another point.

  • You might be the one always contacting them.

I didn’t realise this was a case until I saw a Tumblr post about a similar situation. I continually found myself clearing my schedule for him whenever he wanted to spend time with me, but he wouldn’t do the same for me. But the last few weeks of our relationship, he barely spoke to me. That last date seemed wonderful (aside from the attempt to trigger my PTSD), and he actually asked to meet up over the weekend so that we could define our relationship. I was torn between entering an “official” relationship with him, and ending it. He said he would make sure he was free at whatever time would work best for me, said goodbye, and left. But when I sent him the times I had available, he told me that none of those times would work. So I asked when he would be free and (as always) I would clear my schedule for him. But he never let me know. In fact, he slowly stopped talking to me in general over the next two weeks.

Then I was scrolling through Tumblr one day and saw a post about a woman whose boyfriend wasn’t really talking to her much and who never messaged her first. The woman had been advised to not call or message the guy for three days to see if he would respond. She asked what to do if he didn’t, if she was could contact him then. The girl she was talking to said no, that the guy was getting off on the woman’s need for him, and that if the he didn’t try to communicate, he didn’t really want her, let alone realise that he was losing her.

I took that piece of advice, and I didn’t message the guy I was dating for three days. Then three days turned into three weeks, three months. Now I haven’t spoken to him since April 23, 2016.

That relationship screwed me up, and I’m sad that I experienced it. But I’m so glad at the same time because I learned so much from it.


I really hope that none of you ever experience such a relationship, let alone one worse.

But there is always hope.
If you ever find yourself in an abusive relationship, know that it isn’t your fault and that you can get out, even if you need help doing so.

Here are some resources for abuse victims or friends of abuse victims who want to help:
The National Domestic Violence Hotline
Help Guide
5 Ways to Escape an Abusive Relationship
Help a Friend
5 Signs of Emotional Abuse

Writing: Planning a Scene

Tea in hand, Google Docs pulled up, Harry Potter soundtracks blaring through my headphones, and a desire to write (and hopefully motivation and inspiration to go with it). This is a common picture of how I start writing on whatever project on any given day. But lately, I’ve found myself sitting down and just staring…and staring…and staring…and then looking at the time and realising that I now have to go to work and have wasted my writing time for the day. I have the desire to write. But my motivation and inspiration have been lacking, especially when it comes to my novel. Which has forced me to take my usual “pantser” self and set it on the shelf, replacing it with a planner.

I’m pretty awful at planning and outlining most of the time, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts. But frequently, I find it to be necessary to get any writing done.

I find planning scenes to be even more difficult than outlining my novel most of the time, which is the exact opposite of what I would expect. However, when writing a scene, you need to be certain that everything that is happening (or not happening) is exactly as it should be so that it can properly support the rest of the chapter, the book, the themes, and most importantly the character development.

I’ve found it easiest to work on particular scenes that fit my mood or my fancy on a given day, instead of trying to write through my book in order (this will most certainly make it rather difficult to edit later on, but hey! You gotta do what you gotta do!). But even when I work on a particular scene, my brain can be going a million different directions and make it very difficult to actually get any words onto the page.

So I thought I’d share my tips for plotting a scene.

 

  • Figure out what theme is important to the scene.

 

Sometimes this is your main theme for the novel; other times, it might be one of the minor themes. Whatever the case, think about what actions and dialogue will help present it to your characters/readers. What are your characters’ opinions about the theme? Do they support what you are trying to portray? Are they against it? Have they ever thought about it before?

For example, if you have a theme regarding the importance of family, you may have one character who’s experienced unconditional love and support from their family. This character may be open to whatever is happening and the lesson that can be learnt from it. However, if you have a character who was abused, neglected, orphaned, or abandoned, they may not be able or willing to comprehend the theme. This character may even try to influence the other characters to agree with them.

 

  • Pay attention to which characters are there and how they interact with each other.

 

Going beyond how the characters may react to the theme and what’s happening around them, look act their personal interactions with each other. Do the characters in this scene get along? Are they soul mates? Best friends? Mortal enemies? Complete strangers? Is one of them hiding a big secret from another?

 

  • Write down the first thing that happens.

 

Do you know the first thing that happens in this scene? Write it down! Get it out on paper as quickly as you can. I like to use telescopic text when writing like this. In other words, I write down the simplest sentences about what’s happening, and then I go back and add detail, and I’ll continue going back with more detail until I’m satisfied. But getting the first bit of the scene out can help you figure out what comes next.

 

  • Write out the end goal for that particular scene/chapter.

 

Now that you know how the scene begins, where is it going? Where does its action end? Knowing the beginning and the ending will help you clarify what can happen or needs to happen in the middle.

 

  • Ask what can go horribly wrong. OR Ask what can go wonderfully right.

 

This is a pretty common piece of advice for writers, or at least the first half is. Sending the characters and plot into chaos is a great way to add drama (and interest) to your story; however, sometimes it can get a bit overwhelming. You don’t want only bad things to happen to your characters…do you? Finding out what can go wrong can you give great ideas, but so can asking what can go well. I personally don’t like deus ex machina for helping things go well for characters; I prefer the characters’ past actions or present decisions to lead to good things happening. Also, finding ways to show the joy and love that characters can experience can help your readers fall more in love with them and, as a result, the story.
I hope these little bits of advice are helpful!
What are some of your tips for plotting scenes? Let me know in the comments below!

Story: My New Return

It’s time for a story. Most of the ideas I originally had for this turned into things that will be longer stories instead. Thankfully Azelyn came to the rescue with a writing exercise.
The prompt: Tell a dreamlike story/memory using only 50 words.

I ended up basing this story off the prompt and my memory of a piece of artwork entitled “Isolated Migration” by Justice Lowman (image below used with permission).

My New Return
Water seeps into my shoes as I take step upon step into the waves towards the shack in the middle of the sea. Glowing blue, green, and orange, the jellyfish float towards the stars, guiding my feet, my soul. Then, in the window, she appears, ready and waiting for me.

isolated-migration-by-justice-lowman

Want to use the prompt yourself? Go ahead!
I’d love to see what stories you end up with!

Writing: Creating an Outline

There are countless ways to approach writing an outline for your novel. Sometimes it takes multiple forms to get just one outline put together.

I recently finished my first “complete” outline for a book that I’ve had in my head for three years. I did so by combining three of the outlining styles I’ve heard most about over the last few years, and I thought it might be a helpful technique to others who are trying to start writing a book but have no idea where to begin.

  1. Write down the overarching theme and/or goal for the book.

Aside from three particular scenes in my book, I’ve not really known much of what would happen, and I didn’t know how to piece those scenes together. But I have always had an idea of what I wanted the recurring theme of my book to be. Sometimes that is the perfect spot to start. Having an idea of what you want your work to say, how you want it to make people feel, and why you want to create it is, in my opinion, far better than having a thoroughly planned plot without knowing the meaning of it all. It can be something complex, like wanting to help young women feel empowered and important or revealing some of the “hidden” realities in our societies, or it can be as simple as wanting to make others laugh or getting rid of an emotional burden that you’ve been carrying for years—not that it’s simple to do so. But having a goal for how the novel should impact the world (whether it’s your own life, a community, or the globe) could help the plot come together and give you ideas for specific scenes.

  1. List smaller themes and goals for sections of the book that support the main goal.

This might seem a bit much to some, but I truly enjoy when I can find specific themes running throughout entire books. I take even more satisfaction when those are focused on in more detail in certain chapters. Doing this can give you a better idea of how to organise your scenes, introduce your characters, and even incorporate foreshadowing into your book.

  1. Separate the hero’s arc into the sections.

Here, I took what I knew would happen to my main character throughout the book and the monomyth, or Hero’s Journey Arch, and compared them to the goals I had set for each section of my book. As of right now, I have four sections with sixteen chapters divided among them. I love the idea of having sixteen chapters for some reason, but with the scenes I have planned and a few ideas I have, I may need to add more chapters to the book or find incredibly clever ways to transition between some of the scenes. But I’ve been doing my best to make sure that each chapter and scene will support the theme of that section. That isn’t to say that some of the chapters or themes won’t overlap into other sections. I am actually hoping that those overlaps come smoothly in my work. But taking the general patterns of storytelling and applying them to your outline can help you arrange your scenes and fill in the blanks. These basic patterns can be referred to as the Hero’s Journey Arch, which consists of twelve stages that were identified by Joseph Campbell.

  1. Ordinary World, in which the main character, world, and everyday life are presented to the audience.
  2. Call to Adventure, in which something upsets the balance of everyday life in the character’s world and presents a challenge. The character is then given a choice between two (or more) conflicting calls to react to the challenge.
  3. Refusal of the Call, where the character decides against the call because of insecurities, risks, abilities, or some other reason.
  4. Meeting the Mentor, when the main character interacts with someone who provides wisdom, insight, training, tools, and/or encouragement.
  5. Crossing the Threshold, when the character takes up the call and decides to face the challenge.
  6. Tests, Allies, and Enemies, in which the main character encounters trials, attempts to discover who can and cannot be trusted, and tries to prepare for what will come later.
  7. Approaching the Inmost Cave, where the main character gets ready for the central crisis or challenge that will be faced, in which the character faces their biggest fear.
  8. The Ordeal, where the character enters the central crisis, which has two outcomes on opposite sides of the spectrum (life or death, love or breakup, success or failure).
  9. Reward, in which the character achieves the main goal after surviving the central crisis.
  10. Road Back, when the character decides to complete the journey, returning to the ordinary world even if it’s difficult to do so and encountering trials along the way.
  11. Resurrection, when the character encounters the greatest crisis, which transforms or redeems them, and they gain something from it.
  12. Return with Elixir, in which the character takes what has been gained during the greatest crisis and shares it with others, particularly those in the ordinary world.

As I went through and aligned the themes and the monomyth through my outline, I added more and more detail of the story. The plot quickly grew from incredibly vague and disordered to feasible and understandable. As a result, it’s also a lot less intimidating to work on writing it.

  1. If you have chapter titles or scene ideas, organise them.

I already had sixteen chapter titles chosen and a few scene ideas, but I didn’t know where anything happened throughout the book. Thankfully, setting the themes, goals, and broad plot outline helped me to figure out where each scene and chapter would fit best. For my current work in progress, each of the sections have four chapters. For another book I’ve started planning, I have 23 chapters split into 7 sections.

Each book and its organisation will look completely different, and maybe dividing your book into sections (whether noticeable to the reader or not) isn’t something that you’re interested in or that will really work with your novel. But I’ve found it incredibly helpful in plotting and writing.

Good luck on all your outlining and novel writing adventures!!

What are some of your tips for outlining you stories? Let me know down in the comments!

Pursue

Technically I’ve already written about yearly goals. But this isn’t just about the resolutions and goals I have for this year. It’s about the resolutions and goals I have for my entire life and what I’m doing now to work towards them. It’s about pursuing my dreams and thriving in every moment along the way, hence my word for the year: Pursue.

I tend to over-plan and set too high of expectations for myself, especially in my creative efforts. Considering how I’ve done the last several years in achieving the goals I’ve set, I don’t have a chance of coming close this year.

But I’m doing things differently.

Not only am I setting goals, but I’m also planning everything out in detail—scheduling my writing, editing, posting, and sharing; creating rewards for my accomplishments and punishments for my failures; and finding people to hold me accountable, inspire me, tell me off, and rant with.

If you aren’t already aware, I have five major writing goals for the year:

  1. Post at least one blog a week.
  2. Finish the rough draft of my first novel by the end of June.
  3. Write, edit, and post at least one video a week.
  4. Write at least one poem a week.
  5. Write at least four short stories this year.

I know there will be times I exceed these goals, and I also know there will be times that I fail gloriously. But the point is to keep creating, no matter my mood or lack of belief in myself because these are my dreams. And I will not let myself give up the things I love because of my own self-doubt.

I’m also working towards doing yoga and other forms of exercise more regularly, eating healthier, saving up money (which is difficult when I might not have a job after next week), and taking time to relax. Doing all of this and trying to achieve my creative goals may be awful on occasion, and I’ll definitely want to give up sometimes. But I won’t. I won’t be happy if I do. Goodness, I’ve already fallen a bit behind. Even so, I will not stop trying to accomplish these dreams. I will work to catch up when possible, and I will continue turning to people who can keep me accountable.

I did the cliche thing and started most of my goals at the start of the year, even though doing so is rather arbitrary, because it feels easier and somehow more inspiring. Also, it’s just loads easier to track my progress when I start a goal at the beginning of a year instead of the middle of a random month.

Anyways. Whatever goals you set for yourself at the beginning of 2017, I truly hope that you are able to meet them. In this third week of the year, when motivation and inspiration start to fade and you start thinking about giving up on those goals, know that they and your dreams are attainable. Don’t give up on yourself. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your goals or terrified of what others’ opinion may be, think of how you’ll feel if you give up and then think of how you’ll feel if you push through and achieve those dreams. Because very few things feel as good as meeting goals that you once felt were impossible. And, love, you can do it.

What are some of your goals for the year? Let me know in the comments!